September 25, 2020

Marfrig Expanding Cattle Monitoring System in Brazil

Author: Michael Cordonnier/Soybean & Corn Advisor, Inc.

Large beef processors in Brazil are in the process of establishing systems by which they will be able to track the cattle they bring into their facilities from birth until they are sent to slaughter. This is an attempt to counter criticism that beef processors are inadvertently involved in the deforestation and fires in the Brazilian Amazon biome.

The fact is that most of the intentional fires in the Amazon are the result of ranchers clearing their pastures at the end of the dry season or subsistence farmers or ranchers clearing native vegetation for pastures or crop production. Whatever the cause of the fires, the beef processors want to be seen as part of the solution and not part of the problem.

The beef processor Marfrig launched an ambitious Green Plan in July of 2020 with the goal of zero deforestation and carbon-neutral beef within ten years. As part of that process, in October the company will start to establish Risk Mitigation Maps that will help them track cattle from birth to slaughter and they will not purchase any cattle that spent part of their lives on land that was illegally deforested.

Tracking the cattle from birth is complicated because the cattle may spend part of their lives on different ranches. The cows may have been born on ranches that specialize on cow-calf operations. They may then be transferred to other ranches as yearlings and eventually be placed in feedlots for a few months prior to slaughter. All these different operations need to be monitored to insure that the cows did not spend part of their lives on illegally cleared land.

Starting in October, Marfrig will start monitoring ranches who directly or indirectly furnish cattle to the company. Their system will cross-reference data provided by ranchers with satellite maps that track deforestation.

This is a complicated process because Marfrig has 16,000 direct suppliers of cattle in the Amazon region and each one of the direct suppliers can have as many as 10 indirect suppliers where the cattle may have spent part of their lives. So they need to monitor 160,000 ranches in the Amazon region. The company is in the process of setting up the same system for the cerrado biome where they have 14,000 direct suppliers and as many as 140,000 indirect suppliers.

In order to make the system work, they need to monitor all their direct and indirect suppliers in a radius of about 400 to 500 kilometers around each of the processing facilities.

Marfrig has been partnering with Greenpeace since 2009 to monitor ranchers who sell cattle direct to the company, but now they are greatly expanding the monitoring system to include indirect supplier as well. Marfrig has also announced that they will not purchase any cattle from ranchers that cleared land they were permitted to clear under Brazilian law. The company emphasized that the goal of their Green Plan is zero deforestation.

The company has spent R$ 260 million over the past ten years on incentives to its suppliers to reduce deforestation and they have budgeted R$ 500 million to expand the system over the next ten years. Most of that budget will be spent over the next five years as they establish and monitor the Risk Mitigation Maps.